‘Native Tongue’ by Mojo Juju
The first song Mojo Juju wrote, for the album she nearly didn’t make, was “Don’t Stop Me Now”. It’s a yearning ’60s soul number in response to feedback she’d received over the years: that while she was respected as an artist, she was too queer, too brown, too “out there” to be marketable.
Native Tongue, Juju’s third solo album, taps into conversations about cultural identity that are dominating 2018. It’s a natural successor to Sampa the Great’s Birds and the BEE9, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”, REMI’s Divas and Demons and Briggs’
Reclaim Australia, but it also marks a bold new musical direction for Juju.
Juju has Filipino, Wiradjuri and Anglo-Saxon heritage. She grew up in country New South Wales as Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga, constantly forced to explain her identity. A track like “Shut Your Mouth” shares the sentiment of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, but generally the spirit of Native Tongue is one of betterment, such as in the dance-floor stormer “Something Wrong” – a call to put things right.
There’s also a love story, but it’s not her own. Juju’s great-grandmother had a child with the Indigenous man she loved, but stigma shamed her into taking the truth of the paternity to her grave. A trilogy of songs tells this story from different perspectives. Juju also recorded oral-history interludes of her father and grandmother talking.
Musically, Native Tongue is a quilt of influences, stitched so skilfully that the thread is invisible. The tracks are built from the beats up, populated with dirty synths, flickers of blues guitar, glitchy electronica, elements of trip-hop and a definite nod to Michael Jackson. Collaborators include Jamieson Shaw, best known for his work on the Netflix hip-hop drama The Get Down, and Joel Ma, aka Joelistics. Most moving is the appearance of the Pasefika Vitoria Choir, on the title track and the reprise. It’s somehow as mournful as a chaingang chant but fortifying for the soul.
Birds and the BEE9 by Sampa the Great
Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett